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Call for Support: Appropriate Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies


3 March 2017 - The Somali nutrition cluster and its stakeholders are calling for support to enhance appropriate infant and young child feeding during this pre-famine/drought, and caution against the unnecessary use of breastmilk substitutes. Death rates among children below five years old are expected to rise due to the combined impact of communicable diseases, diarrhoea and high rates of under-nutrition, so appropriate feeding and care for infants and young children is therefore even more crucial.

The Somali nutrition cluster and its stakeholders are particularly concerned about potential donations of infant formula, powdered milk, and baby bottles during the current crisis. The nutrition cluster strongly discourages the donation of breastmilk substitutes, including infant formula, other milk products, bottle-fed complementary foods, juices, infant teas, bottles and teats which can actually increase morbidity and mortality among young children. Any unsolicited donations should be directed to the designated coordinating agency.

During times of drought in particular clean water is scarce, and the use of unsafe water exposes many infants and young children to increased risk of infectious disease, malnutrition and death, especially from diarrhoea. The difficulties of preparing and keeping these products under hygienic conditions, or cleaning feeding bottles, particularly in overcrowded conditions such as camps for the internally displaced adds to the risk of infection.

The Somali nutrition cluster reiterates that exclusive breastfeeding is the best way to ensure the survival of infants between 0 and 6 months old. These infants do not need anything apart from breastmilk – not even water. Continuing to breastfeed children between 6 and 24 months and older, combined with a varied diet, is the best way to ensure optimal nutrition and health. Breast milk confers better protection of infants from infections especially in environments without safe water and sanitation.

The Cluster recognises that care is needed for infants with no option of breastfeeding. When after a proper assessment the need for breastmilk substitutes has been identified this should be given under strictly controlled conditions and with support. Furthermore it must be procured in line with normal procedures (not donated) and the distribution controlled and supported.

The Somali nutrition cluster recognizes that breastfeeding women are likely to be hungry or stressed in this time of need. While stress can temporarily interfere with flow of breastmilk, it is not likely to stop breastmilk production, and a moderately malnourished woman can still produce enough breastmilk for her infant. Where possible, pregnant and lactating women should access supplementary feeding programs so they can adequately feed their infants.

Effective suckling and frequent unlimited breastfeeds increase milk production so it is extremely important to keep mothers and infants together during this emergency. 

Children and women identified as malnourished should be referred to treatment services (supplementary feeding programs, outpatient therapeutic programs and stabilization centres) to get the best care possible. Standard infant formulas are not meant for this purpose. Caregivers can obtain support on infant and young child feeding in health facilities from skilled counsellors.

The Somali nutrition cluster and its stakeholders strongly urge all those involved in the emergency response to work together to create conditions and provide services that protect and promote breastfeeding, such as one-to-one counselling, mother-to-mother support and establishing spaces for mothers to breastfeed. This will help ensure the survival of infants and young children.

For more information, contact Samson Desie, Nutrition Cluster Coordinator: sdesie@unicef.org

 

 
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